Lachrymatory (Some Thoughts on Mass Tragedy)

by Aaron

The last couple of years, my wife has been expecting her mother to pass, but her mother comes from hardy stock and continues to fight on. Almost fifteen years ago, the doctors told my wife’s mother that she had five years to live if she stopped smoking and started eating better--she did neither. About five years ago, her mother was mostly forced to stop smoking and could no longer make her own meals and she couldn’t remember a whole lot by then. Last year, the family decided to place her in a full-time care facility, so she didn’t hurt herself and could be looked after 24/7. It was at this time we thought that her death must truly be near.

When the realization hit of the seemingly imminent passing of her mother, I went online and bought my wife a lachrymatory that was made in the late 1700s. I know….a what?

A lachrymatory is a glass or metal vial that is used to store tears that have been shed in love, joy, sympathy, and remembrance. The tear bottle dates back more than 3000 years, when mourners would bury their tears with loved ones to express honor and devotion. Many people think that when King David penned what we now call Psalm 56, it was when he was hiding from Saul in Gath; while there, he says  “You have kept count of my tossings (‘tossings’ refers to restless slumber because we are so bothered by something in our lives); put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8) In Ancient Near Eastern societies, these bottles were well known.

She didn’t know that I bought her this gift. I was going to give it to her when her mother passed as a reminder of the joy and sorrow that was shared with her mother during her life. Instead, I gave it to my wife when she turned fifty a couple of weeks ago as her mother, being cared for by professionals, shows no sign of slowing down.

In ancient Roman times, mourners would not only fill small glass vials, but sometimes whole cups, and place them in burial tombs as symbols of love and respect. There were even masses of women who were paid to cry into "cups", as they walked along the mourning procession. Those who cried the loudest and produced the most tears received the most compensation.

Why do I tell you all of this?

I believe, right now, our nation is at a place where it needs to learn to collectively mourn. There have been mass shootings for senseless reasons (these can stem from ideologies on the right or the left), people breaking friendship and fellowship over political views, and there are those who put words into the mouth of God from all walks of life who may not even truly know Him. I was thinking about the lachrymatory this week and thought that it would be a good thing if we, collectively as a nation, could learn to mourn with one another. Instead of displaying visceral reactions to those we disagree with, what if we mourned the death of civility, respect, and ultimately, the lives of fellow human beings?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what to say about the latest rounds of mass shootings in our country. My initial reaction is to tell everyone to stop with the rhetoric and reaction and first mourn this loss. When thinking clearly, we can respond with clarity. However, it often seems like another shooting interrupts our clarity. I do not have the answers to these tragedies, but the ultimate problem is not weapons, politics, mental health; it is with our hearts. Don’t take that as a political statement--it is not. What I am saying is we can ban everything that could potentially harm someone, and mankind would still find a way to hurt each other.

None of that is to say we shouldn’t critically examine our laws, but ultimately, we must understand where both the problem and solution lie. We are broken because of our rebellion against God. Humans react out of fear or blame. We try to understand, but until we grasp the magnitude of sin and evil, we have misplaced explanations, attempting to label the problem as a mental health issue, weapons issue, societal issue, religious issue, or any other reason we can find. In the book of Genesis, when Cain kills Abel, Cain is at first flippant and angry with God for chasing him down, but eventually, he changes, sees what he has done, and mourns the loss. Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. This verse has many connotations about God’s care for the hurt and vulnerable, but it also talks about godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). We must cry our tears individually and corporately over our sin—only then will we begin to come together.

What would it mean if we could collectively set aside our opinions about why certain tragedies have happened and come together to mourn the loss that strikes all of us at our core first? I would love for us to come to a place where together we would say, like David, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle,” knowing that God remembers and that He truly does care—even when we forget to care for one another. God cares so much for us as humans He sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin—to be the only solution for the devastation sin leaves because God Himself grieves the effects of sin.  If we were able to grieve together, without first pointing fingers or espousing our solutions and judgments, we could be on the same page to begin to move forward. We could meet on the common ground of our own frailty and loss. As disciples of Jesus, we could mirror the way He enters into our brokenness and despair—offering hope, but also sitting with us in our grief.

In the midst of these tragedies, my encouragement for you is to not first look to manifestos, news commentators, and radio talk show hosts for answers; I encourage you to spend time praying and seeking God’s face. If there are tears to be cried, let them come. Then, seek out others to give voice to what is going on inside and pray corporately. It is from humble and broken hearts that we can receive guidance from God regarding where to put our efforts toward making a difference. Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Here is a post written by a mass shooting survivor on how to best pray for those who experience these tragedies.

The Faith of Samson

by Aaron

A few weeks ago I was out on the lake with my wife and some friends and broke my boat through my own stupidity. I had double gasket-ed the oil filter and blew all the oil out of the engine and essentially ruined many perfectly good summer days at the lake. We had a little vacation planned that got cut short because of my said stupidity, and decided to head out to Element’s plant in Colorado Springs for a visit. I was texting with Jonathan who leads the plant and he asked if I wanted to speak or help do music when I was here. I replied, “Whichever would make your life easier and more enjoyable.” His immediate response was, “great, you’re speaking about Samson.”

At Element CS they are going through Hebrews 11 looking at archetypes of faith based on the people listed in those verses. I thought it was a bit funny when talking about Samson because it says in Hebrew 11:32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. The writer of Hebrews didn’t have time to talk about these other people, but Element CS does (it’s why that series is taking months to get through). I thought, if you are bored, I would give you a chance to listen to or watch what I said because I have a hard time with Samson.

You might have heard of Samson as a kid, seen a cartoon, fantasized about his great strength, but none of it does justice to how much of a knucklehead this guy was. I have a hard time even understanding why he would be talked about in Hebrews 11 as an archetype of faith…unless we can properly understand the word faith a bit better and who God is.

So, if you are so inclined, here ya go.

Listen to Aaron's Message on Samson Here

Anxiety, Depression, and Struggles—Oh My!

by Kelly Borjas

While reading in my Bible this morning, I noticed something interesting. In Psalm 30:11-12, the Psalmist says: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing, you have loosed sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” What stands out to me in this passage is the presence of mourning and sadness, not the absence.

For most of my life, I have felt like a “bad” Christian for any emotion other than happiness.  Yet, God created humans with emotions, and the people of the Bible are full of these emotions, as noted above. For years I’ve struggled with anxiety/OCD tendencies. I’ve been ashamed of this weakness, searched for a formula to handle it, and prayed for deliverance. Many of my friends deal with anxiety, and several battle some form of depression; lots of them are Christians. Sometimes these areas of struggle are a lack of trust in God, caring too much what people think, a sin, or any other number of causes, and we should prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance as we wade through the reasoning. Oftentimes in my experience there’s also a physiological component (I’m not a psychologist, so this is a non-professional opinion), and the struggle just “is what it is.”

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh,” for which he pleaded for God to remove. God’s answer was, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As I get older I’m learning a reality in life around me: everyone has something they struggle with. A thorn, if you will. It may be a broken family, health issues, anxiety, depression, financial problem, grief, or any other number of issues. As we’ve studied Ecclesiastes, we see this idea even more: life is full of toil. That’s normal! It’s in this reality that we turn to Jesus and find joy in our lives: with our families and friends, homes and feasts, and other abundant gifts from God. We have an eternal hope that outlasts the here and now, and it colors the world around us in a different way. Pain doesn’t triumph; it’s short-lived in light of eternity. Does that mean we are “happy” all the time? Void of problems? No! It means we have a framework to understand the good and the bad, the roller coaster of life.

Anxiety is one of my weaknesses. Yet it is in this specific weakness that I have seen that God’s grace is sufficient for me. Do I hate anxiety? Yes. Do I wish I could eliminate it forever? For sure. However, I’ve learned to ask myself: where do these emotions make me turn? This struggle drives me to the feet of my Father. I can’t manage on my own. He is the one who holds me, comforts me, heals me. I’m oddly thankful for this struggle that pushes me to the cross, to the present reality of God’s grace. It’s almost like I get to relive the beauty of His grace and marvel at it all over again each time I reach out in desperation.

Managing struggles usually cannot be achieved by following a simple formula, it’s a combination of many things: a reliance on the truth of Scripture combined with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, support of community, health for the body, and the constant reminder of God’s grace. The beauty of this “formula” is that we can revel in God’s grace. These labels we place on ourselves can help us understand the symptoms of our struggles, but they are not our identity. They are components of our humanity, but they deteriorate and lose their power in light of our identity as children of God and followers of Christ.

There’s not anything we have to do or be to earn our salvation. That work is done! We can stop and find peace. Struggles are a part of life, but like the Psalmist says, we get to see God turn our pain into dancing and clothe us with gladness! That is an amazing hope, one in which we can give thanks to God.

 

Simul Justus Et Peccator

by Aaron

If you are reading this blog you might think that the title of it is something that looks like the fake words that inexpensive website developers put in their templates (lorem ipsum). Miscellaneous dummy text to fill space…but it is not. The words Simul Justus Et Peccator were written by Martin Luther in an attempt to help people better understand the beauty of salvation and new life.

Last week Mike Harman sent me a really nice note about how he sees the preaching of God’s grace continually spoken at Element. Most of us aren’t fluent in German or Latin, and rather than have you read Luther’s treatise on the book of Galatians, I thought this would be a good concept to understand in our further understanding of the Gospel. Simul Justus Et Peccator means "At the same time righteous and a sinner."

It is the idea that we are righteous in God’s sight due to the blood of Jesus covering us, but we are also daily being conformed more to His image. Hebrews 10:14 says it like this “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (ESV); the NIV translates it like this, “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” RC Sproul once said, “…if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula [Simul Justus Et Peccator].”

Let me explain:

  • Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously, it could also mean “at the same time.” Like I am a husband and a pastor at the same time. Two things that can be mutually exclusive, but because of my position I am both.
  • Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous.
  • Et means “and.” (Yes, I took a whole line to say that).
  • Peccator means transgressor or sinner, it was originally a Latin legal term.

It can be a little hard to parse in our heads, It means that from God’s perspective, because of Jesus, we are justified or righteous (declared not guilty), but from another perspective (most likely those of the people around us) we still sin. Luther will point out that under the scrutiny of God we still have sin; it is not that God is purposefully naïve, it is that God chooses to see us through Christ’s righteousness. The heart of the Gospel is that by faith in Jesus, His righteousness is now transferred to us so that our Father sees us as righteous.

The point is that before God, we will either be judged on our righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ. If we only trust in our own righteousness there we be no possibility of redemption. Back when Luther first taught this, the Roman Church considered it a serious threat because they contended that “justification” means making a man righteous in his own person. They asked the question that some still do today, “How can God pronounce a man to be righteous in His sight unless he is actually righteous?” This is a question that leads many people to fear; they wonder if their salvation is certain.

Monergism.com says it like this: “Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his.” What is our contribution to our salvation? Just our sin. Jesus gives us His righteousness as a gift and God chooses to see us covered in Christ’s righteousness. A person who trusts in Jesus is not declared righteous by virtue of their own merit, but on the basis of the merit of Jesus. His death and life for us.

Martin Luther was very cognizant of the fact that as followers of Jesus we may be new creations in Christ, but we still live in the world and still commit acts of sin. Sometimes there is an attempt to redefine what sin is to make it less severe. Luther does not shy away from what sin is and shows that there is no place for us to boast in our own righteousness because we have none. Christians must always rely on the finished work of Christ for our acceptance before God; it leaves us in a place of humble trust in Christ.

RC Sproul points out that, “at the heart of the gospel is a double-imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God…is both just and the justifier…my sin goes to Jesus, His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith in Chapter 11 (which deals with justification) says it like this:

"Those whom, God effectually calls he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God."

There is a lot of technical theology in this blog,  but it is important because there is a truth we get to carry with us every day. We cannot earn God’s favor or salvation. What we get to do is trust that Jesus took all of our sins: past, present and future, and covers us with His Righteous life. Believing that changes everything and will even start to change the way we relate to God Himself…with humbleness, love, and thankfulness.

 

Just Say No!

by Kelly Borjas

Many of us will remember the phrase from our younger years in the context of peer pressure and drugs, “just say no.” It was an important message then and I find it to be an increasingly important one now in my adult life, but for a different reason. This message in my adult life deals in the drug of busyness. If we are all honest, we would admit busyness can be a drug of its own, an enticing addiction that promises satisfaction and a marked achievement to be somebody. It’s even celebrated in our culture as a status marker and fulfilled life. How many times have we all rattled our to-do list of appointments, meetings, award ceremonies, sports games, get-togethers, and schedules in an attempt to impress another person with all we can juggle and handle? With all that’s demanded of us? But when we come to the bottom of busyness, after the hype has worn off, we find ourselves ultimately left unsatisfied, searching for fulfillment.

A few years ago my family lived in a large city where my husband commuted and we had no family support. We were busy all the time—friends, church, and out-of- town visitors. We were always striving for the next thing, even if it was a good thing, like volunteering at church. The fear of missing out drove the desire to say yes to everything, to fill the need to be busy. It’s a popular acronym—“FOMO” –but it was also a very real commentary on the state of our lives. If someone was getting together without us, we would drop everything to go, it didn’t matter what would be sacrificed because we didn’t want to miss out, even at the expense of my kids’ well-being, our finances, or even connection in our marriage.

After a convicting study on Sabbath Rest, my husband and I decided to implement Sabbath time in our own family. This was a tricky endeavor, as we were often at church for over half the day on Sundays. One Saturday we decided to refrain from any commitments, and just be together. As the four of us were eating ice cream together in a cocoon of our own that afternoon, we received an invitation to a BBQ/pool party with some friends. We wanted to go as a whole group of our friends would be there and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to spend time with everyone. We didn’t want to miss out. Yet, we made this commitment to ourselves. So we just said no, and it was so difficult.

We learned something that afternoon: saying no to that event didn’t mean we lost our friends. We had other pool parties with that same group of friends and life moved on. The irony, and lesson we learned, was that we could miss out and still be friends, still have a place to belong, and still connect with people. We didn’t have to say yes to everything. It was so freeing to say no because our worth wasn’t based on that one event. In fact, our relationships probably grew deeper and more secure, as we realized we didn’t have to strive so hard to belong. Our friends accepted us without demanding we attend every event.

That night was a turning point toward freedom—a realization that creating margin in our lives brought a breath of fresh air, connection, and health for our family. It enabled us to move toward each other in a thriving marriage, with intentional time spent together. There was space to breathe and rest for our souls.

A couple years later, we moved to Santa Maria. As this last year has transpired, I see the old habits creeping in and taking hold. I again find the desire to be included as I seek to re-establish myself and my family in new social circles. We’ve had weekends where we end Sunday and exhale, only to realize we never sat together, never talked about God, never let truth saturate our hearts, and never paused. We just survived the crazy, busy schedule of the weekend, only to feel burned out by the time it was over.

I’m realizing intentionality is the gateway to margin. God, after creating the entire world, rested on the seventh day. In fact, as I read through Leviticus recently, I learned God even gave the land a Sabbath rest. He intended for us to stop and rest and created this rhythm in our world. It is in the time of rest, the time without plans or agendas, that we can focus on who God is and what He has done. It’s in the time of just being that we can remember our identity is in Christ and who He says we are, not in our social status or the activities we do.

I’ve learned it’s in the quiet time when we are all able to let our guards down. It’s a time for my kids to recalibrate. It’s in that space when I’m able to parent efficiently because I’m not distracted by my to-do list or trying to keep my kids occupied so I can chat with my adult friends. We find laughter there, enjoying each other and the great gifts God has given us.

Creating margin is a practical necessity for my life—for my family’s life—at this stage. We need to make God the focus of our Sabbath rest, yet it will come with sacrifices. We may have to turn down invitations from friends, we may need to evaluate extra-curricular commitments, we may even miss out.

Now we are facing a new transition. We find ourselves absorbing more change and added pressure. I have had to go back to basics to create margin in my life and fight to maintain my priorities. I’ve had to just say no. I am a follower of Christ, a wife, and a mom in that order. I am currently in a season where margin is necessary for us to thrive. I want to be obedient to the relationships and people God has put in my life. However, if I am spread too thin, I am no longer effective in the ones that are non-negotiable: my husband and kids. I made a covenant commitment to my husband. If I am not carving out sacred space for our marriage to thrive, the impact spirals to all other areas of my life.

We need soul rest. While sometimes I am physically tired, often I find my weariness comes from the exhaustion of trying so hard to find my place in this world. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 (ESV), “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Rest for the soul. It’s a beautiful picture of peace and contentment. In this day of crazy schedules and juggling pressures from all sides, I am convinced the intentional creation of margin in our lives allows us the space to enjoy God and who He is and to discover who He says we are. A time of Sabbath creates time for soul rest, which spills into our entire lives, positively impacting those around us. If I, if we, can learn to just say no, we open the door to freedom, contentment, and rest for our souls.

 

We live in the 9th Post-Christian City (Study)

by Element Christian Church

Last Sunday, Aaron referenced a recent study that shows that the corridor between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is the 9th Most 'Post-Christian' areas in America. Check out these articles for the full study:

Barna Study: Here are this year’s top 10 post-Christian cities in America:

 

All The Lost Things (an Acts part II blog)

by Aaron

I am currently writing the sermon series for next year, Acts part 2. Acts part 2 will take us from chapter 13 in Acts through the end of the book as it mainly focuses on Paul’s missionary journeys. As I go through it I occasionally have too many notes to fit into what I am talking about. Sometimes I try to take those notes and push them into another week, but there are times I just have to delete them all as they won’t fit…even though I like them. Michael Reed said, “Why don’t you just turn them into blogs?” Well, that’s what I guess I will do. 

I am reading tons of notes and commentaries by NT Wright, Kent Hughes, John Calvin, Craig Keener, compilations from Abingdon press and intervarsity. So much material, so little space, but it is a good problem to have I suppose (I would rather have something to say than nothing at all). 

In Acts 22 Paul enters into Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. A very strong sense of Jewish nationalism has over taken the Jerusalem church at this point because many people were “zealous for the law.” This means that a very good thing is happening, the Jewish nation is coming to trust Jesus in large numbers…but there is also the bad in that they are elevating their tradition over God’s grace in reaching people that aren’t Jewish. Paul has been out among the Gentiles (non-Jews) speaking of God’s grace in salvation, explaining that Gentiles didn’t need to become Jewish (in culture and practice) in order to be brought into relationship with God. This does not sit well with those who were “zealous for the law.”

God told Paul to go back into Jerusalem knowing full well what would happen to Paul when he got around the zealous people, but Paul goes because he trusts God even though he is aware of what will befall him. As he heads to Jerusalem people from every church on the way try to stop him from going, warning him what will take place. Prophets even show up to show Paul how he will be bound when he is there…he even says to these people in Acts 21:13 “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Everyone thought that the trouble they knew would befall Paul were warnings that he shouldn’t go, but Paul knew God was simply preparing him for what was to come. This doesn’t always mean all of our harebrained ideas are God telling us to do something. I had three things I found in one of my sources on Acts that I couldn’t work into my message about what we learn from Paul’s experience and thought I would share them here (I am pretty sure these were from Kent Hughes).

1) In our moments of highest spiritual motivation we need to especially beware of error or bad judgment. Sometimes we make decisions with the right heart that turn out to be very bad. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a professional athlete become a Christian and within days they are all over the circuit speaking about Jesus even though they have zero theological or deep understanding of God. It usually ends up doing more damage to the name of Jesus than anything else when their life falls apart and becomes a mess. When Paul became a believer he took time out to learn what God was calling him to before he ever did anything. It’s not that our hearts are necessarily wrong, it is that our enthusiasm can blur our judgment. Many people thought Paul going to Jerusalem was a bad idea because they were motivated by love for him.

2) We can be pressured toward questionable action by the sins of others. The sins of others may even seem like something that sounds godly. Think of the Jews who were zealous for the law, they wanted people to adhere to moralistic, nationalistic, and Kingship (governing) laws that had been laid down by God in the Torah. In their zeal they had pushed out God’s love and grace and so encouraged others to do the same. When Paul got to Jerusalem, instead of the church there fully defending him and his mission to spread the good news of Jesus everywhere, they allowed the legalists to have sway over their words and actions.

3) We need, like Paul, to have hearts full of passion for lost souls and for God’s glory where we are willing to run the risk of making people mad who would see our decisions as unwise. I know at this point some will point to Proverbs 3:10 and say that “wisdom is found in those who heed advice.” While true, it is also advantageous to see why Paul didn’t heed the advice…it wasn’t out of arrogance, but out of motivation for the lost. Everyone wanted to stop him from going into Jerusalem, but by going in and eventually being arrested he gets to speak the Gospel to those “zealous for the law,” to Roman soldiers, to tribunes, to rulers, to kings, and to make a difference while in his chains.

The only part of my lost notes that did make it into my message was a line that said, “Some hearts never risk anything. They strive neither for sin nor for sainthood. They desire a temperate zone free from the storms of sin and from the tempests that accompany a life of service. Never burn for the souls of others, and you will avoid rejection. Never suggest a plan to reach the community or the world, and you will never be criticized for it. Never give counsel to someone undergoing the pain of separation or divorce, and you will never give errant advice.” But in never risking we are never living for the Gospel…and we are called to live for Jesus no matter where we find ourselves. My hope is that we become a people who have the Gospel come first in all we decide to do in our lives.

How Do I Handle an Unjust Boss? Part 2

by Jeff Pruett

Last week's blog post we looked at the question that was posed in one of our Gospel Communities related to Colossians 3:22-4:1, “What if your boss isn’t worth following? What if they are unfair and unjust?” The Bible presents a number of teachings which can be applied to how to handle an unjust or unfair boss. Depending on your specific situation, you may find that one or more of these principles or examples directly applies. In Part 1, we explored 3 “Don’ts” and this week we will look at the happier 3 “Do’s”: 

3 “Do’s” in Dealing with an Unjust Boss:

Do #1: Do Show Respect
Even if we are in a situation with an unjust boss, we are called as Christ-followers to treat them with respect. 1 Peter 2:18 specifically addresses this situation: 

18 You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel.

Don’t dismiss this passage just because of the term “slaves.”  Slaves in the Roman Empire at the time this was written corresponds to employees in our time (rather than the “chattel” slavery that treated people as property).  We are called to respect the position of authority, and our honor for the position drives us to behave in ways that honor our boss along the way, even if they are cruel and unjust.  There are limits to this, thankfully. Peter could not obey the authority of the High Priest in Acts 5:29 because it violated what Jesus had directed him to do, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” We aren’t required to obey unjust bosses when following their orders would cause us to disobey God’s direction, but we still need to show them respect in the process.

By the nature of God putting our boss in a position of authority, we owe them honor simply because God put them there. Even if their behavior is dishonorable. That’s hard to do. And I’m not always good at it. But God gives us the Holy Spirit to display character qualities reflective of our new nature – and if we depend on Him, those qualities will surface.

Do #2: Do Seek Resolution
Let’s say you find yourself working for an unjust boss and need to either confront their behavior or disagree with their order to do something that violates what you believe God has instructed us to do. Trying to improve the situation is certainly allowed, and doing so with love and respect reflects the character of Christ. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes aspects of a person’s life that is characterized by the love of Christ reflecting through them (notice the highlighted phrase):

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

If we find ourselves with an unjust boss, it is acceptable to respectfully address the injustice and seek an appropriate resolution. It might not happen, but it is ok to try. And if we have a long track record of honoring of our boss, I believe our respectful, humble attempt to address an injustice will be received well most of the time.

Do #3: Do Consider Alternatives
Sadly, treating an unjust boss with honor and seeking resolution graciously does not always result in lasting change. We are fortunate to live in a culture and an economy where most people have reasonable employment opportunities that include alternatives to working for an unjust boss. If that happens to be your situation, 1 Corinthians 7:20-23 encourages you to consider an alternative work situation when available (note “slaves” in this passage are analogous to “employees” in our present day):

20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.

We are encouraged here to find a better situation, if it is an option. That’s what “gain your freedom” is referring to – find a better boss if you can.

But what if a better situation isn’t an option? What do we do then? 1 Peter 4:19 reminds us to commit the outcome of our difficult situation to God, and continue to do good in the midst of our tough spot:

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Conclusion
As we’ve seen, the Bible gives us some helpful guidance to direct our behavior and attitude toward our bosses, whether they are just or unjust. In some situations, the Bible guides us to pursue other options (a.k.a. freedom) when that is a viable option. But when leaving isn’t a viable option, the Bible still gives us some helpful direction for how we should navigate such a difficult situation. Honoring our boss is always the right path, as is maintaining a healthy attitude, working diligently, and seeking peaceful resolution to conflict. As we work hard, honor our leadership, and trust the outcome to God, we can be confident that God will give us strength and use our lives as an example to those around us to display His glory to a lost and dying world.

 

How Do I Handle an Unjust Boss? Part 1

by Jeff Pruett

Our Gospel Community recently explored what a Godly attitude toward work looks like from a Biblical perspective. We spent a good bit of time looking at the attitudes and work ethic that are encouraged in Colossians 3:22-4:1. In the middle of our conversation, a great question popped up: “What if your boss isn’t worth following? What if they are unfair and unjust?”

I loved the honesty in that question!

Have you ever had a bad boss? Most of the people I have worked with can point to a time in their work history where they encountered a boss who was unfair, unkind, or even unjust. I can remember one boss in particular who would threaten me almost every day with bold statements like, “If you don’t finish what I’ve assigned you by the end of today, I’m going to fire you!” Then he would spend his time sitting in his office day-trading, surfing illicit web sites, or gossiping with co-workers. It was a very demoralizing work environment.

But what is a Christian to do? Are we supposed to roll over and take the abuse? Are we supposed to head for the door and find a new gig as soon as humanly possible? Are we supposed to stay and take a stand to minimize suffering for others?

These are heavy questions, without easy answers. If the Bible is supposed to be able to “thoroughly equip me for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) that must include how to handle an unjust boss, right?

Yes. That’s the good news.

The “less-good-news” is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

The Bible presents a number of teachings which can be applied to how to handle an unjust or unfair boss. Depending on your specific situation, you may find that one or more of these principles or examples directly applies. We’ll explore 3 “Do’s” and 3 “Don’ts” over the next two weeks and look at related Bible passages to help guide us through this challenging topic. Let’s take the bitter pill and get the bad news out of the way first, starting with the “Don’ts”:

3 “Don’ts” in Dealing with an Unjust Boss: 

Don’t #1: Don’t DQ (disqualify)

Before we conclude that we have an unjust boss, it is wise to do a quick self-check to make sure we haven’t disqualified ourselves by our own performance. Have I been giving my best at work? Am I following through on what is assigned to me? Have I been coming to work with a good attitude and working in a way that is honoring to my boss and co-workers?

Many times when we are held accountable for poor performance we are quick to label our boss as unfair or unjust in order to avoid facing the hard truth that our work might not be meeting legitimate expectations. This is not always the case, but we need to take responsibility for any part we play in the process and be willing to be held accountable when our work ethic or performance is genuinely lacking.

Proverbs 12:24 (MSG) presents a principle that we are wise to consider in this area:

The diligent find freedom in their work;
    the lazy are oppressed by work.

While an unjust boss may ignore diligent work, we need to be careful as Christ-followers to make sure that we are not lazy in our work. Before we declare our boss “unjust,” we need to confirm that we are not contributing to the problem… just because a boss says our work doesn’t meet our expectations doesn’t immediately mean they are being unjust. We need to be willing to examine our own work and be sure we have been diligent – otherwise our boss may be right in questioning our work, and we should take appropriate corrective actions if so.

Don’t #2: Don’t Reject Authority
When a boss seems unfair or unjust, it is easy for us to slip into a mode where we reject their authority or begin to discount their leadership. This reaction is dangerous. I remember early in my career when I felt like my company’s leadership was not making wise decisions. I shared my opinion with a co-worker, stating that I felt “our CEO is incompetent.” Those words traveled quickly, and I found myself in the CEO’s office having a frank discussion about my attitude. I had questioned his authority based on incomplete information and it did not reflect a Godly attitude.

Romans 13:1 presents a better attitude, recognizing that people in leadership (authority) are there because God allows them to be there:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 

We do well to honor those God has placed over us and guard our hearts against rejecting authority, even when leaders’ actions may seem unjust, incompetent, or evil. It honors God when we remember that He has allowed them to have the position they have, and do our best to be faithful in the aspects of our work that depend on us.


Don’t #3: Don’t Complain or Retaliate
It is tempting to complain or push back against an unjust leader. Your co-workers are likely already “venting” about how your leaders aren’t measuring up to their expectations. Yet Philippians 2:14 presents a clear direction to steer clear of complaining, grumbling, or arguing:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing 

Now before you dismiss this verse as “not relevant” or “out of context,” let’s keep reading verse 15:

so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…

Our call to do everything without grumbling (complaining) or arguing is so that the world will see that we are children of God, independent of the justness or unjustness of our boss. Our actions will point to Him as the reason for the difference and hopefully cause others to seek God as a result. That is why we don’t complain or retaliate, even if we have an unjust boss.

There’s the “don’ts,” tune in next week for the “do’s.”

Read Part 2 Here.

Mothering Sunday

by Holly DeKorte

Living overseas exposed me to holidays and traditions that were unfamiliar. Early spring, British owned businesses in downtown Kyiv began advertising sales for “Mothering Sunday.” The holiday itself struck me as incredibly inclusive. Not a mother myself, I was still usually pushing a double stroller or carrying a child while walking down the road reading the advertisements. Though the children were not my own, I was mothering. People living internationally understand how it truly does take a village to raise children.

In the United Kingdom, “Mothering Sunday” did not begin as a day of honoring one’s mother; it began as a day honoring and returning to the local church. The fourth Sunday of Lent, people would return to the church of their baptism, essentially returning to the “mother church.” Along the way, servants (who were given the morning off) would pause and pick wildflowers for their own mothers. 

American Mother’s Day does not focus on the verb “mothering” as much as it does the office of motherhood. It essentially turns one Sunday a year into a day of “no access” for many women. Women do not fit into one tidy category. Think of the diversity! 

*A woman who has been struggling with infertility
*A woman suffering through the aftermaths of an abortion
*A woman who has had to say goodbye to a child
*A woman raising a child she has not birthed
*A woman raising children on her own
*A woman who does have children and/or the support of a loving husband
*A woman who has raised her children who are now out of the nest
*A woman who longs for children, but marriage isn’t on the horizon
*A woman who has no desire for marriage and children
*A woman who is happily married, invests in children, but doesn’t desire one of her own
*A woman who knows for certain that “all the best moms” don’t always get promoted to “grandma”

What, then, do we do with these women who might not fit the traditional definition of “mother?” We acknowledge that God creatively uses many people to act as a mother. Beyond that, we look to what God has supplied to all His children. 

God has given believers an amazing gift, the church. Through the church we receive God’s Word, nourishment for our souls. We receive the reminder that Christ’s body was broken and His blood poured out for all mankind. We receive baptism into Christ. We receive the hope we have in Christ. We receive the community of saints who live life on mission for God’s glory. The gift of the church is meant for all.

Isaiah 54:1-3 is one of my favorite passages of scripture: “‘Sing, O barren one, who did not bear, break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,’ says the Lord. Enlarge the place of your tent and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back: lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”

As a woman who is not married nor is a mother, I take great personal comfort in this Isaiah passage. However, reading this scripture in context and as prophetic literature, its meaning extends far beyond encouragement for a “desolate” woman. Isaiah had just finished a thorough prophecy concerning Jesus. He then speaks to Israel in captivity and reminds them that they will return to Jerusalem. Isaiah points Israel back to the one true love, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.” Isaiah 54:5. This prophecy was not only for the Jews and their return home, it is for the church, the Bride of Christ. One commentary points out that “enlarging the place of your tent” (Isaiah 54:2a) is a prophecy concerning Gentiles coming to faith. You and I have been welcomed into a prophecy made to God’s Holy Nation that is now extended to God’s Holy Church. And in this prophecy we have another assurance, “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.” (Isaiah 54:10). This is the God who loves us; He calls us home to His church.

Should Mother’s Day be celebrated? I intend on honoring my mother who has indeed nourished and discipled me in faith. I also intend on honoring God’s gift, the church. You may not see me in a chair on Sunday, May 12; I most likely will be returning to the church of my dedication and baptism. Who knows? Maybe I’ll also stop along Bradley Road and pick some wildflowers for my mom.

 

Baptism Stories - May 5, 2019

by Element Christian Church

Today we are doing a couple of Baptisms. Usually we invite all of Element to come, watch and celebrate with those getting baptized. However, the crowd can be intimidating, so we are offering a smaller baptism for those who would rather prefer the more intimate setting. They are inviting family, friends and their Gospel Communities. 

You can still celebrate by reading their stories here, and when you see them in the weeks to come, congratulate them on getting baptized! It is truly an exciting step in their journey following Jesus.

Download Baptism Stories

 

Musical Chairs

by Kelly Borjas

Recently, we had a sermon on how worship can encompass anything we do (excellent point!), but I’ve been specifically pondering corporate worship through music (i.e. the dedicated time of singing songs at church), and the impact on my life as many of my presuppositions and beliefs have been shattered.

As a caveat, I can’t sing on key and I can’t clap on beat. In fact, if I’m ever going to clap on beat I need a person at the front of the room to do the dramatic motions so I can follow. Oftentimes I don’t clap because I get too distracted simply trying to keep time. We even sit in a specific spot in the sanctuary so I can hear the music, not myself singing (and sorry if you ever sit next to me on a Sunday morning). Yet, I love music. I love to worship through music at church. And I’m married to a musician (go figure!)

I’ve always said I’m a bit uncomfortable with elaborate emotional responses during musical worship. Yet, throughout the course of my life every time I walk into church after a difficult circumstance in my life, worshipping through music induces tears. Without fail, words of a song will start and I can’t sing without tears flowing (I can offer countless examples of this) and it makes me wonder: what is it that spurs my emotional response? 

It happened again last week. We received news that felt devastating, and I knew Sunday morning would be a difficult moment for me. In fact, I wanted to sit in the back so I could hide. My husband (gently) said if we’re part of a church I should be authentic and not hide just because I’m scared of how I’ll look, or because I don’t smile the entire time. I made it all the way toward the end of the music set, and then I heard my husband say, “this is a good song.” We sang: 

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night
But joy comes in the morning 

The wind is strong and the water's deep
I'm not alone here in these open seas
Cause your love never fails
The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But your love never fails

Honestly, in that moment, the pain felt intense and the joy distant. The chasm felt wide. The words of the song mirrored my emotions and struggles. Yet, I believe, with all of my heart, that God’s love never fails and joy comes in the (figurative) morning, even if I don’t see it in the moment of my mourning. So I sang the song because it’s a cry from my heart, a truth to cling to, even when the water feels deep. I sing, even when it doesn’t all feel good. I sing because sometimes grasping onto truth is the reminder of where to steer my heart. That day, I held onto to my husband, and my dear friend (who is also in my G.C. and knows my current circumstances), handed me a tissue and held my hand.

As I’ve thought about that moment this past week, I’ve realized what happens in a time of corporate worship through music. A community of people gathers together—singing in one unified voice—to the Creator of the world, the Hope for sinners, the Giver of eternal life. I saw another friend stand and sing that particular song. My guess would be that person sang out of thankfulness and joy that morning. When I hear the voices of an entire congregation sing, it reminds me I’m not alone. It reminds me there are other people who believe; others who are in this journey together. I’m reminded that not everyone sings from a place of pain; some sing from a place of gratitude (as I have done so many times in the past). It gives me perspective—not all of life is filled with pain or grief; joy comes in the morning. Sometimes worship songs give me words when I do not have them. They are a way to express the innermost places of the depths of my soul—a cry to the God who loves me.

I’ve come to realize this is not merely an emotional experience for me—my actions or beliefs are not changed as a result of a worship “experience” or “reaction.” However, God has given me emotions as a tool to process some of the circumstances in my life through the lens of truth. He has given us music and a body of believers to walk together, to sing together as a way of magnifying Him. A time of corporate worship allows us to respond to what He is doing in our lives. When we sing as a group of people, we proclaim these truths and orient our hearts toward Him together.

The Struggles of Being the One in Four

by Aaron

On Easter this year we talked about The Miracle of Forgiveness. Whenever I hear the word for “forgiveness” my brain goes back to this old Don Henley song (he was in this band called the Eagles at one point…they were a big deal for a while). The song goes, “I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter…but I think it's about forgiveness.” I think the words he wrote are true, even if he meant them in a different way: the heart of the matter is hard and our wills do not want to face it; instead we want to “scatter,” run another direction. A recent Barna study shows that 1 in 4 “practicing” Christians, people who claim to be born-again believers in Jesus, struggle or refuse to forgive others.

The good news here is that 75% of practicing Christians have offered forgiveness to someone else. The article actually says they offer, “joyful forgiveness to another person who had hurt, upset or sinned against them (or someone they love).” While awesome, the study also stated that only half of people said they remember someone offering them the same forgiveness they offered to someone else. There is a huge disparity in the results of the study where some can’t offer forgiveness, some do, and yet many people can’t accept it or even see it when it is offered to them. I believe this is all a result of not understanding the Gospel first. 

If you will indulge me I would like to talk about forgiveness (in a different way than I did on Easter) and see if I can’t give a bit of theological clarity that is useful.

In The Old Testament there are essentially three roots for where we get the word forgiveness. Two of the roots have a similar connotation that sit in conjunction with sacrifices and so are used with the word atonement, or covering our wrong before God. The coolest of the three is the root ns’; the word you see most often is nasa’ and it means to lift, to carry, to support, or to sustain. It is an incredible word that carries the picture of sin being lifted off of us and carried away by God’s provision; in the Old Testament this was through the temple, for us today it is all through Christ. 

Throughout the Old Testament the words for forgiveness are written in the connotation of awe and wonder. Our offenses before God merit punishment, but we are pardoned with His outstanding grace. The Intervarsity Press New Bible Dictionary states, “The OT knows nothing of a forgiveness wrung from an unwilling God…” meaning it is clear by the words that are used that God wants to forgive us our trespasses and sin before Him.

In the New Testament Jesus draws a connection in Luke 7:47 between those who have been forgiven, who understand that great forgiveness, and those who forgive others. The Barna study also bears this out when they ask people about forgiveness: of those who say they have received it 87% say they have given it in return (compared to 64% who say they have not received it). Can you imagine going through life and either thinking you have never needed to be forgiven or never experiencing forgiveness? Forgiveness is central to Christianity and reminds us who we are as people, a people who need God’s forgiveness because of how we have broken relationship with Him.

81% of practicing Christian believe offering undeserved mercy (extending forgiveness even before it is asked for) to someone else is something that God looks favorably upon (makes me wonder what the other 19% believe), but not everyone is willing to do it. 27% don’t want to, 23% “just can’t” offer that forgiveness and mercy. In one sense it is understandable--forgiveness is hard when hurt is so real and many offensives against us so heinous, but this is why we are reminded to look to Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). When our eyes no longer linger on our own hurt, but on the graciousness of a God who brings us to Himself, a God who calls us His children, and a God who removes the offenses that we have done to Him, it is meant to change us.

Brooke Hempell, speaking about forgiveness in the Barna study said, “It’s what distinguishes it from any other religious faith. We are reconciled to God through Jesus’ sacrifice, and in response, we should be agents of reconciliation in every aspect of our lives. If Christians struggle to extend or receive forgiveness, not only do their relationships suffer, the Church’s witness is marred.” This is why I titled this blog “The Struggles of Being the One in Four” because many times I can react like that 25% who has my eyes on myself and thinks forgiveness is beyond my ability to give. It is only when I honestly look at who I am with all my own personal flaws and failures, then look at Jesus in His perfection, that I can agree with God about my sin and live in light of His forgiveness of me. When we live out our lives with a view of God’s forgiveness of us as a meaningful part of our lives, it teaches me to also forgive others.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean other who hurt me always get let back into my life to cause destruction, but it does mean I can honestly pray for others and want the best for them (which is coming to know the saving grace of God). Christianity is unique in that we believe God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus; in doing so He teaches us that forgiveness is central to who He is. We do not need to “work off” a debt before Him, he has paid the cost of our sin by sacrificing Himself, cancelling the debt and thereby enabling true forgiveness.

May we be a people who come to a place where we all are undone by God’s gracious forgiveness of us and learn to be imitators of Him.

 

 

Mentor VS. Disciple

by Kelly Borjas

Have you ever heard someone say they have a mentor? How about that they are “being discipled” or “discipling someone?” These are common phrases I’ve heard over the years. They’re frequent in many churches and frankly, kind of confusing. So what’s the difference between mentorship and discipleship?

I would guess most people assume “mentorship” is generally outside of a Christian context; whereas discipleship is the concept of helping a person grow in Christlikeness. Generally, a mentor is “further along” or more advanced than the mentee (at least we would hope). It could be a specific area (i.e. someone who mentors another person in career decisions (like how a Sous Chef is supposed to train the other people in the kitchen), or it could be general, such as someone to reach out to on an “as-needed” basis.

A cursory search and study on discipleship opens Pandora’s Box. Nobody has found the perfect form of discipleship (sarcasm inserted here)! Opinions vary on the best way to achieve and encourage discipleship. There are many words we use to describe it: Accountability partner. D-group. Bible study. Discipleship. Mentor. These are merely some of the terms I’ve encountered in my growth as a Christian, with the end goal being to grow in our faith. One article suggests codependency may result in a one-on-one discipleship relationship. The article also speaks to the author’s beliefs that her primary discipleship role is her kids; however, their family invites people to dinner often, and mutual discipleship occurs during dinner. Others suggest discipleship should be the main focus of our missional communities.

These opinions beg the question: what is discipleship? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of disciple is: one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as

  • A: Christianityone of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ's followers according to the Gospel accounts
  • Ba convinced adherentof a school or individual (ie: a disciple of Freud).

To start a quest on what this means for us, we have to look at what the Bible says. Here’s what’s fascinating: the term “discipleship” is not even in the Bible. What??? We have all of these opinions about how to achieve this and it’s not even mentioned in the Bible? Well, the term disciple is mentioned as Jesus says to “go into the world to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). If we are to do what Jesus says, to make disciples, we are sharing the gospel, and baptizing people. Simple. Yet the application is where this gets complicated. How do we achieve this?

The concept of discipleship (as we have come to label and understand it in American Christian culture —a growing in our faith and Christlikeness) is in the Bible; it’s how we live out the idea of making disciples. In Titus 2 we see older women are to… “teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…” In Hebrews, we see that we should consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Jesus himself had 12 disciples who followed him and “did life together” (to use a current phrase)—they travelled, ate and drank together, and pursued His ministry together. There are some key factors here:

  1. The biblical concept of discipleship is relational, not a formula.
  2. It is healthiest if it’s same-gender.
  3. The idea of an older woman connotes the idea of someone who is “further along” (which also helps alleviate too much dependency on another person instead of focusing on Christ).
  4. Meeting together for mutual encouragement and a push toward growth in Christ is a factor.

How does this translate into our lives?

Discipleship occurs as a result of intentional time spent with other Christians, but this doesn’t happen by osmosis. In other words, merely spending time with other Christians is not discipleship; that would be fellowship (which has its own valuable place). Discipleship requires intentional engagement on both parties to invest in the relationship with the mutual goal of growth. I would assume most Christians consider discipleship a process by which two or more people meet together and discuss the Bible, what God has done, and how to apply it to their lives. In an ideal world, prayer and accountability are included in that mix. It’s not a process by which a person grows alone. Most often, effective discipleship would occur in a consistent meeting together so true relationships develop.

There is a time and place for meeting with those who are ahead of us in both life and their walk with Christ, which may require even more intentionality with differing schedules. Mentorship, in a Christian context, is a component of discipleship, and one we should not quickly ignore. We glean much by learning from those who have “been there before” and can impart their wisdom.

I would suggest the difference between mentoring and discipleship may often be a matter of semantics, especially if we are Christians. As Christians, we take a Christian worldview on our lives; that means all of our decisions should be viewed through a lens of what God is doing in our lives and how we can glorify Him. Interestingly, as my husband and I were discussing this, our opinion is that a person we would turn to for “discipleship” would also be a good mentor in all areas of life, because a person is generally not a strong example if they do not have wisdom in the practical areas of life. My husband says he turns toward someone with credibility, both in their walk with Christ and their life decisions. That does not mean worldly success; it means a person who is able to filter all of life’s decisions through a gospel-centered lens. It’s a person who helps process decisions such as taking a job or making a financial commitment with the same goal of glorifying Christ first. For example, I have a friend who is an older, more mature Christian. I have met with her a handful of times over the years, generally when I am struggling in a particular area or could use advice, prayer, wisdom, and encouragement. We have never met consistently, but I always know I may contact her and she’ll be able to help me navigate through an issue. I would consider her a mentor who assists me as I grow in my faith, which is part of my discipleship.

Discipleship in a mutual form would be able to challenge one another, “Iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17),” and is vital to our growth as Christians. We can all learn from those with different strengths and spiritual gifts, which is the ideal of the body of Christ as we meet together frequently. 

We need each other as part of our spiritual growth, which is why God gave us the Church. Our focus should be on Christ, because as we focus on Him we are transformed, and that transformation overflows to the body of Christ and those in our missional communities. The goal is that we would disciple each other, mentor those younger than us, and learn from those with more experience and maturity in their faith all to the glory of God.

 

The What-If Cycle

by Kelly Borjas

It happens often. A smidgeon of fear enters my mind, then I start entertaining anything that can go wrong. I “catastrophize” a fear to all the possible outcomes (generally bad ones or irrational ones…what if x, y, or z happens? Ironically, I don’t tend to dwell on possible positive outcomes). I engage my fearful thoughts and give them too much credit, which ultimately breeds anxiety and robs me of peace. I call it the what-if cycle. 

This has been a crazy week. My husband and I are both faced with situations that could have a lot of possible outcomes for our family, and I want to have the right outlook. I don’t want fear to rule my days, but I’m also scared to hope after walking similar roads in the past that resulted in pain. I know the past pain and struggles have produced growth, and even an increased dependence on God, but it’s still scary to face the unknown. I think many of us have times in life like this—whether it’s engaging in relationships after a loss of a loved one, starting a new job after loss of a previous job, or something else. How do we handle moving forward when the fear can feel paralyzing? 

My Bible Reading plan has been in Numbers (it’s a book in the Old Testament, trust me, it’s there). I literally prayed this morning for application to my life because it’s been a hard book for me to go through. This morning I read in Numbers 9, how the Israelites moved when the cloud representing the presence of God moved. “Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out…” And I realized, God has me where I am for now. Whether I’m in this situation for a day or two days or a month or longer…that’s where God has me now. It can be so easy to get ahead of myself, to be scared about the outcome, or what will come in the future. The “what ifs” can wreak havoc with my mind and heart, but if I take it a day at a time, I am reminded that God will sustain me. He will provide. I can trust in Him. I am not trusting in the outcome I want; I’m trusting that He is good, He loves me, and all things work together for my good, even if I don’t see it or understand.

A recent tool I’ve learned is to question what I’m believing about God when these thoughts or fears want to take over, then apply truth. Am I believing He’s good, or am I believing He’s up in heaven wringing his hands or haphazardly letting things happen on my behalf? Am I believing that I’m in control, or that He’s in control? Am I believing I need to earn grace, or that it’s freely given? If I’ve learned anything in the past handful of years, it’s how little control I actually have.  I have had to learn to “preach to myself,” not listen to myself, and I can only do this by walking in the Holy Spirit. Walking in the Holy Spirit can sound mystical or confusing, but it’s really just a dependence on Him and a reliance on Scripture. Sometimes that reliance is daily, sometimes it’s moment-by-moment, but it is always a prayerful dependence on God and His promises, on Truth that doesn’t change regardless of my circumstances. 

I need to remind myself that “my times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15), and the man who fears the Lord “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid…(Psalm 112:7-8).”

May we all take the what-ifs and the uncertainties we face in life and lay them at the feet of the cross, where the One who is certain and in control and full of grace and truth holds us and carries our burdens. May we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us as we apply the truth of Scripture to our lives. I don’t know the outcome of the circumstances my husband and I are facing; however, I know where to turn, and for today, I am sustained. Tomorrow is a new day as “His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).” Let us trust in His faithfulness.

Yo Tengo Gozo Gozo Gozo Gozo En Me Corazon

by Element Christian Church

Years ago we used to do these mission trips down into Mexico to work with orphanages and impoverished people. One of the things I tended to notice is that the children and adults were not as depressed as I would be as an American if I found myself in their same situation. It is all a matter of perspective on what they have and focus their lives upon. It was on one of these trips that a small church of poor laborers in Mexico taught me a song that went:

Yo tengo gozo gozo gozo en mi Corazon!
Donde? En me Corazon
Donde? En me Corazon
Yo tengo gozo gozo gozo en mi Corazon!

I never really learned Spanish and my memory of the song lyrics may not 100% correct, but that’s how my brain brings it back in recollection. They translated the song for me:

I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart!
Where? Down in my heart.
Where? Down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart!

This is sung about Jesus saving us, bringing hope, and residing in us by His Spirit that brings a deep abiding joy “down in our hearts.” I was blown away by a people so in love with Jesus despite their circumstances that it has left a lasting impression on me ever since. 

Where does this deep joy actually come from and what is it (and by contrast, what is it not)? As all things do, I think it stems from God’s provision over us and His revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus. What we eventually see and understand about Jesus, even before His birth, is how the Prophets spoke about Him and His life: Isaiah 53:5 says “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” The words “as one whom men hide their faces” means He most likely was not a man of physical beauty as we would traditionally define it. Think about this: oral hygiene and dentists weren’t as popular as they are today. Can you imagine Jesus NOT having all of His teeth? I mean we hope He did, but most likely He didn’t. He was also rejected and despised by the very people He made. He experienced sorrow and brutality like none of us ever has…and yet He brings peace and joy to those who find their lives in Him.

Based upon what we know, it seems logical that joy and peace can’t stem from good looks, popularity, money, or having an easy life of leisure. We know this to be true because we can look around the world and see that those who have all of those things are just as messed up as we are. Then there’s the most glaring truth: Jesus had none of those things in His earthly life and yet experienced deep and abiding joy. Let me show you Hebrews 12:2 from a couple various translations:

  • We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. (New Living Translation)
  • fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (New International Version)
  • looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (English Standard Version)

This verse is the writer of Hebrews telling us how to set aside everything that wants to entice and snare us and begin to run the race as Jesus did…and how did Jesus do it? With the joy set before Him. Jesus, we are told, endured the cross, with all of our sins placed upon Him, because of the joy set before Him. What this tells me is that our joy is too small and we probably don’t understand the meaning of it as He does.

We most often look at joy as a byproduct of getting or attaining something, but Jesus sees joy as something that is extended to us by God Himself. It is why Nehemiah 8:10 reminds the Israelites that the joy of God Himself is meant to be our strength. Joy does not mean never having hardship, sorrow, pain, or grief. Joy is the fact God has found us and delighted to rescue us in Himself. The prophet Habakkuk in 3:18 says that even if all the crops fail and nothing is left, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savoir.” Throughout the Old Testament all of the most ecstatic expressions of joy are concentrated in worship; that people are able to celebrate apart from material blessings shows that there have only been two essential reasons for joy: God and His salvation.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul finds great joy when people grow in their trust of God. The entire book of Philippians details how we can have joy even during sorrow because we realize it produces something glorious in us. He also reminds us that joy is a gift God gives to us in Galatians 5:22. God gives joy because it makes us strong. Joy is not happiness, joy is an abiding understanding of God’s goodness, salvation, and sovereignty. One of the last words of the entire Bible is about our joy: Revelation 19:6-8 “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

 

The Ultimate Mic Drop

by Kelly Borjas

When I graduated from college (many years ago) I wanted to change the world. I wanted to be a public speaker and work for a company whose mission I was passionate about so I could do something that matters; I wanted my job and career to have meaning. You can imagine how discouraging it was to find myself (as most of us do) in a job that didn’t directly make a difference in the world (corporate sales). Somewhere in the process of feeling let down I had a realization—relationships with people at work and integrity in my job could make an impact for Christ. They made meaning of the meaningless.

I oftentimes have the same struggle now. As a mom of young kids the days can be long and monotonous (I’m not out changing the world or solving massive problems), but when I look at the days as an opportunity to help mold the hearts of my kids, there is eternal value. What’s the commonality between my “corporate work” life and my “mom” work life? It’s the idea that relationships are a vessel in which we can share what matters; a way to add value to our lives and grow in our faith. 

The question then becomes: what matters? If relationships are a way to share what’s important, then what is important?

I personally cannot answer that question without looking at Jesus and His role in my life. I believe after an encounter with Jesus (a life-changing, direction-giving, identity-naming encounter), our lives are changed…so I would like to focus this short blog post on Jesus. First, my disclaimer: I’m just a regular, church-going person. The focus of this blog isn’t a bunch of technicalities (because I probably don’t know them); however, it is about Jesus and how He changes our lives, specifically about how He’s changed my life. 

Why does Jesus matter so much in regard to how we relate to people? I don’t think I can answer that question without looking at the Bible as a whole—Old and New Testament. Jesus is the turning point in history. Before him, Old Testament laws and regulations prohibited true freedom. I’ve been reading through Exodus lately, and many of the regulations are, quite frankly, overwhelming and exhausting. I cannot imagine living in a time where every detail of a sacrifice must be perfect, or even that animal sacrifices had to be made to cover my sins. Yet, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). The Bible is full of people looking for redemption, for hope (think of the Israelites escaping slavery in Egypt, the desire and provision of earthly judges and kings, the exile and return in Nehemiah). They needed a savior. I need a Savior. Before Jesus, God still provided, but looking back (like a Monday Morning Quarterback), that era just seems overwhelming.

Then comes Jesus.

He fulfills the Old Testament prophesies. He is the Perfect King. He fulfills the law. He is the ultimate Judge. He’s the ultimate Pardoner and Giver of Mercy. He gives true freedom. Hebrews 10 says “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” I love this imagery. It’s like the ultimate mic drop. He sacrifices Himself, rises from the grave, reveals Himself as risen to His disciples, sends the Holy Spirit, then sits down next to the Father. Boom. We, as Christians, have an eternal hope (in His steadfast love, in His grace, in forgivingness of sins). Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I don’t have to live in a ritualistic way. This is literally life changing!

I’m a total rule follower (not always in a good way; rules for me can be a way to control and have security). I can easily fall into patterns of trying so hard (on my own) to earn forgiveness, to be “good enough” for grace. This is the largest oxymoron ever. I can never be “good enough” for grace, which is the whole point of grace! How can I not look at His grace and respond with joy? With hope? With a peace and an exhale that lets me rest and stop striving so hard?

Hebrews 10 continues with the idea that, “since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,” we should “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean” and “hold fast the confession of our hope” and “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…encouraging each other (Hebrews 10: 19-25).” It goes like this: I can enter the presence of Jesus because of what He has done for me, which leads me to be assured of my faith and hope… and then I get to encourage others. This is where relationships come into play. Because of what Jesus has done for me, it changes my life, and should change how I view relating to other people. Every relationship is an opportunity to encourage someone—in the joys and struggles—because what Jesus did changes me. The love Christ has for me should spill over into my relationships with other people. 

As we reflect on the perfect life and work of Jesus, I pray it spurs us onto encouraging each other. I pray that the good news of Jesus changes all of us (I know I need daily reminders) so we can share His hope and joy with others. It’s in the sharing of life’s joys and struggles that we are able to apply and remember the Gospel. It’s within the fabric of relationships that we are able to have context for what Jesus does in and through us. It’s in the gathering together that we share how God is growing and changing us through the circumstances in our lives, and in those circumstances give and receive encouragement. Relationships matter because they are a vessel in which we can share Jesus—the biggest, most important discovery in life—with others.

 

Riding the Wave

by Kelly Borjas

Dinner with friends.
My sons’ birthday parties.
Weddings.
Saturday afternoon Tri-tip BBQs (with butter-soaked French bread, minus the beans).
A good bottle of wine with my husband.
Laughing so hard I cry.
Late-night talks when company comes to visit.
A long run with my running partners.
Trips to visit friends.
Coffee with girlfriends while kids play.

These are a few of my favorite things.”

I recently wrote a blog about depth, “going deep,” and relationships. I made a case that depth in a relationship derives from vulnerability and sharing on both parties. That blog focused primarily on the struggles we face. With this blog I was challenged to take a different angle—the joys and celebrations of life, and how those contribute to intimacy.

I smile as I think through my favorite things because most of them involve those close to me (family and friends). Often, these are the times in life we look forward to, plan around, and mark on the calendar; the times we hold with such anticipation. Granted, sometimes they are spontaneous and unexpected, like many gifts given by God, but they are all moments that make the mundane special. These are the memories that spark joy in the fabric of my life (not the things I need to declutter in my house!)

In the book of Nehemiah the Israelites are beginning to come back from exile when they reopen the words of the Scriptures. The people start a communal time of mourning and weeping because of the ways they have forgotten their past, dishonored God, and remember how faithful God actually has been. As they cry out Nehemiah tells them to stop grieving, instead saying Nehemiah 8:10, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Where times of hardship and vulnerability draw us closer together in deep friendships, so can (and does) joy and celebration. Nehemiah pulls them from their communal mourning over remembrance of their sin, and sends them off to experience communal celebration as a remembrance that this is now a new beginning; it is all done together. We don’t usually plan for seasons of hardship, but we can and do plan for communal times of joy.

To me, intimacy is a “both-and;” most of the time there’s not true intimacy based solely on sharing struggles, but it’s also unrealistic to think true intimacy is generated only on the good times (because hard times inevitably come). I like to think relationships (at least healthy ones) are like waves as they hit the beach. They ebb and flow based on the shared joys and struggles. In the ebb and flow the celebrations and struggles are both magnified and managed as we walk them together. If a friend prays for a baby or job or spouse, I cannot begin to explain how excited I am when that request is granted. In contrast, when I’ve seen pain and shared the hard spots of someone else’s life; it makes the good times so much more special.

Celebration is such a good practice because it magnifies God and reflects on Him as the giver of good gifts; it oftentimes marks the end of a time of waiting (just like the Israelites in Nehemiah). There are many times God’s good gifts are unexpected and unplanned, which is a humbling experience, but one to appreciate and celebrate all the more with those around us. 

I once heard someone say we should develop a history with God, so we remember how He has carried us before, and that He will do it again. I think that concept applies in celebration. We should celebrate what God gives us with each other—everything we have is an opportunity to point toward Him. That doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but when we are able to look at God’s gifts through this lens, we realize there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3: 4-5).” As we walk through life in our communities, I hope we remember to ride the waves together, weeping together and laughing together, mourning and dancing together. I hope we celebrate the joys and enjoy the gifts God has given.

Rolling in the Deep

by Kelly Borjas

What does it mean to have deep relationships—or to have depth in a conversation? Recently I was challenged with this question because I’ve thrown that phrase around—that I like deep conversations or relationships, but putting a definition to this idea is very difficult. Shame on me for saying I like something I can’t even define! In fact, this question of depth has taken me weeks of processing, praying, and seeking God’s guidance. Truthfully, there’s some conviction here, because I’ve defined this my way (a way that works for me), and not necessarily in a way that represents many people.

Being “deep” is a hard topic for me to write about, but in an opposite way than you’d probably assume. I, Kelly, am most comfortable swimming in the “deep end” of the pool. Just this year I had an epiphany: I can do small talk well and deep talk well, but sometimes I’m not great in the middle area…just…talking. I get uncomfortable. For a lot of my life I’ve assumed most people want/desire this “depth.” But do they? Or is it just my comfort zone—a security blanket I wrap around as a way of defining myself?

I asked a bunch of people what it means to them to have depth and what it takes for that to occur. I could regurgitate my opinions, but my thoughts may not be indicative of the general masses. I asked local people, some far away, people I know well, people I don’t know well, men and women (thanks to my friends’ husbands who were my guinea pigs!), and Christians and non-Christians. Obviously this is not a formal survey (George Barna is not going to show up at my house and pay me for my work), but I wanted to see if there were any commonalities in responses despite the different personalities and backgrounds.

Most people defined depth as a shared vulnerability—risking judgement from the other person when sharing thoughts, desires, fears, etc. It’s the idea of sharing beyond the surface to what matters, even if it’s hard. Each person’s “issues” may be different; but the idea is to share more than polite niceties or exchanges about the weather. In other words, depth in a relationship does not mean people need to agree or share on the same topics; however, it means that there’s a two-way street in sharing life struggles and joys, as they relate to each person. There’s a safety and mutual respect for the other person’s opinion. Many people expressed a desire for a relationship with the other person (or the knowledge a conversation would have a follow-up). The men especially required trust, common interests, and/or respect (of the other person) to share.

I talked with a mentor friend about this topic and she reminded me that we are complex humans with a variety of backgrounds, personalities, struggles, and layers. We may not have depth with all people at all times, and that’s okay. (I’m reminded as I write that even Jesus had a smaller group of disciples in His “inner circle”). It takes time to develop depth. In other words, I would be naive to think there’s a formula to develop deep relationships or a magic number of people we should have in our inner circle. This is where I’m convicted. After a recent move to Santa Maria and the need to start all over, I’ve probably sought these relationships or conversations out of a desperation, loneliness, or insecurity (my desire to find community as I define it). However, I heard a definition for trust recently that resonated with me: time plus believable behavior. I like that, because it frames how we get to a place of trust (and therefore relationship).

This topic begs the question: should Christians have deep relationships? Is that a biblical concept? If we look at the early church (in Acts), we see a community of people who modeled teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, and sharing with those who had need. I have to believe struggles were shared in those days—both physical and spiritual. The group of believers banded together to support one another. That takes sharing and vulnerability—not a mask of “having it all together.” 2 Corinthians 1:3 says God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received in Christ. Again, inherent in this idea is that we are sharing our struggles to lift others and build one another up, encouraging them in Christ. And yet, Colossians talks about bearing with one another, forgiving each other, and putting on love, which binds us in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-14). This suggests even Christian relationships will have hurts and disappointments as we take the risk of growing together, and that we must forgive and love despite any pain.

Life is full of bumps and turns. It’s not easy. Yet, when we are able to have people who love and support us through these ups and downs, it lightens the load. I recently asked a friend (at Element) to pray for me regarding an area I’m having a hard time trusting and finding peace. This friend has walked this road I’m on, and understands the struggle. She responded with a tear in her eye, a text message the next day, and encouragement to rely on my husband as we seek peace and direction on this topic. I’m so thankful she shared her struggle with me, and can encourage me.

As I write this, I write with conviction. May we all invest in our communities and share our struggles and joys. May we all listen without judgement, and share without fear. May we all pray for one another, comforting each other in Christ (i.e. applying the Gospel) as we journey together. It’s a process of learning and growing, humility and forgiveness, but I believe it’s one that will transform us as individuals and a community at large.

If Only

by Kelly Borjas

If Only…

It’s a frequent idea that seeps its way into my mind, my heart. An “if only” that promises a better outcome or more success, yet it’s cloaked in a nobility of wanting to improve or be a “better version of myself.”

Comparison. 

As a wife, mother, woman, the struggle is real to compare myself with others. I do it all the time in a variety of contexts. I compare how I look (am I skinny enough?); I compare how my house is decorated (is it nice enough?); I compare how my kids are dressed (are they trendy enough?); I compare my personality to someone else’s (do I talk too much?); I compare what I do (do I have enough personal goals so I’m not lost in the abyss of just being a mother?); I compare my kids’ performance (are they well-enough behaved?); I compare my spiritual walk with others (do I read my Bible enough?).

I am constantly seeking that elusive standard of “enough,” fearful that someone, somewhere will say I’m not enough (there are a lot of issues embedded in this—perfectionism, contentment, resting in grace...the list could go on. But for this blog I am narrowing this specific issue to comparison.   

How can I begin to think biblically on this issue that seems to invade my life? I know comparison can steal the joy God intends for me to ground myself in, but I also see the need to compare myself to Jesus as He is the true standard of holiness. Seeking after varying levels of worldly success gets exhausting, and it starts to feel like I’m a hamster on a wheel—running in circles with no momentum forward. 

I would first like to point out that I don’t have all the answers, but I think there’s something to be said about rooting our identity in Christ. I was talking to a couple of girlfriends this weekend about this, and one commented that “rooting our identity in Christ” (while being true) still rings a bit like a trite comment or cliché answer. She’s right. We throw that phrase around without really applying it. So how do we find our identity in Christ and not let all the other comparisons distract us?

I keep thinking I have to go back to what the Bible says: I’m a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). He’s created good works in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). He will continue the good work He’s started in me (Philippians 1:6). When I think about those truths, I must ask myself, “Why am I striving for anything other than trying to love Jesus more?” Why can’t I be confident that God created me with my personality, gifts, passions, etc.? Why do I think I will feel better about myself if I (fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-standard-I’m-trying-to-meet)?

I think I forget. I forget who God is and what he’s done. I believe the lie that something else will make me feel better about myself. I need to remember, we all need to remember, that God’s grace is sufficient for us in ways that give us purpose that can propel all of our lives forward. He’s given the Holy Spirit to lead, help, and guide us as we walk through life, which directs us all to a place where we need to actively remember. The only way I know how to “remember” is to have a community of people who will remind me. Have conversations that steer me deeper into Christ’s truth and can tell me when I’m looking for some cheap satisfaction. My husband can spot when I’m too obsessed with some direction, and tell me I’m chasing something in the wrong way. I have a handful of friends who can do the same.

I don’t think the comparison game gets any easier as we get older. In fact, it may be more difficult because there’s so much to compare. But soaking our hearts in truth and having a group of people who can support us in that quest may be part of the answer to rooting our identity in Christ.